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Ça ira toujours

Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Les aristocrates à la lanterne!

That is the famous song sung by the female revolutionaries storming the gates of Versailles in this clip from a 1953 film called “Si Versailles M’Etait Conté” (If Versailles Told me its Story).

Neither the voice of Edith Piaf at the head of the mob nor the glorious technicolor in the film can suppress the thought that “Les aristocrates à la lanterne!” (The aristocrats to the lamp-posts!) is a murderous sentiment. If that was the song of the Revolution, it is hardly surprising that it soon became the Terror.

Only those were not the words sung at the time of the Revolution. The film is peddling a myth. Today I learned, first that the words “ça ira, ça ira” do not mean “Thus it will go, thus it will go” as I had thought but “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine”, secondly that they were originally said by Benjamin Franklin to express his confidence that the American Revolution would work out OK, and thirdly that the original words of the song are revolutionary but not murderous.

Here are a couple of extracts:

According to the precepts of the Gospel
Of the lawmaker everything shall be accomplished
The one who puts on airs shall be brought down
The one who is humble shall be elevated
The true catechism shall instruct us
And the awful fanaticism shall be snuffed out.

and

The aristocrat says, “Mea culpa!”
The clergy regrets its wealth,
The state, with justice, will get it.
Thanks to the careful Lafayette,
Everyone will calm down.

Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
By the torches of the august assembly,
Ah ! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
An armed people will always take care of themselves.
We’ll know right from wrong,
The citizen will support the Good.

Those were the words as first written by a former soldier turned street singer by the name of Ladré. It was not so much the song of the Revolution as the song of the Fête de la Fédération that took place a year later. This event was meant to be a symbol of national reconciliation. Wikipedia says:

At this relatively calm stage of the Revolution, many people considered the country’s period of political struggle to be over. This thinking was encouraged by counter-revolutionary monarchiens, and the first fête was designed with a role for King Louis XVI that would respect and maintain his royal status. The occasion passed peacefully and provided a powerful, but illusory, image of celebrating national unity after the divisive events of 1789–1790.

As we all know, that did not last. Unlike their American counterparts, the French revolutionaries had no intention of stopping just because they had achieved their ostensible aim. Ladré’s optimistic words about everyone calming down and the state “with justice” taking the wealth from repentant aristocrats and clergy were replaced by a new version of the “Ça ira” propagated by the sans-culottes:

Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
the aristocrats, we’ll hang them!
If we don’t hang them
We’ll break them
If we don’t break them
We’ll burn them
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
the aristocrats, we’ll hang them!
We shall have no more nobles nor priests
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
Equality will reign everywhere

The hangings, the breakings and the burnings all came to pass, as they always do when Equality reigns. Thus it did go, but it was not fine.

7 comments to Ça ira toujours

  • Revolutions to establish that ‘Equality’ always see

    And the awful fanaticism shall be snuffed out.

    replaced by

    Ils sauront bientôt que nos balles sont pour nos propres généraux

    long before someone writes lyrics praising it (did you know that the Internationale was originally meant to be sung to the tune of the Marseillaise?). And of course, ‘nos propres’ soon loses any ironic meaning it originally had: French revolutionary generals could be dispatched to the guillotine if so unfortunate as to lose a skirmish when their depute-en-mission (the French revolution’s version of ‘commissar’) was having a bad hair day, and Stalin of course dropped the need for even that excuse when purging his own generals.

  • PapayaSF

    Fun fact: in pre-revolutionary France, the theory was that peasants should be taxed as much as possible. It would make them stronger, the way plants are improved by pruning. This thinking didn’t apply to the clergy and aristocrats, of course, and directly led to the revolution.

    There’s more in this fascinating book that libertarians should read. You might not think a history of taxation would be interesting, but it is. https://www.amazon.com/Good-Evil-Impact-Course-Civilization/dp/1568332351/

  • Regional

    Revolutions are great in that the generals have to turn cannons on the rabble to stop chaos and the rabble have to shoot the generals to stop the generals becoming dictators in massive courts of self indulgence because they deserve it.

  • Mr Black

    When the elites have become a predatory class of criminals who do not represent nor protect the interests of the citizens then a murderous revolution is actually the correct response, if all reasonable attempts at righting the ship of state have failed. Social upheaval is how nations refresh themselves and cast off the deadweight of their “betters” and murdering the old guard is the only way to make it permanent. Jefferson knew what he was talking about with regards to watering the tree of liberty, it is the endless cycle and attempts to avoid it only make the reckoning that much worse when it comes.

  • bobby b

    Interesting that the first version – the words written by the “street soldier” – contains this line:

    “An armed people will always take care of themselves.”

    More interesting is that the line was dropped in the sans-culottes version written later by the communally-oriented followers of Hebert.

    Seems like professional revolutionaries hold little trust for “the people.” Perhaps knowing what is surely to follow any revolution which they lead causes them to dislike an empowered populace?

  • Paul Marks

    “the state, with justice, will get it” – meaning the property of the Church, and the nobility, and anyone else the Revolutionaries (whose leaders were most certainly NOT poor) did not like.

    Some “justice”.

    And anyone, such as Mr Thomas Paine, who goes along with all that – and yet claims to be against mass murder, deserves a punch in the mouth. Indeed they deserve a lot more than that – they deserve to be executed by their own Revolutionary friends (as Mr Paine almost was – and so many other Revolutionaries were, by their own Comrades).

    As for the standard lies….

    “Serfdom” – what serfdom in France in 1789?

    “Torture” – abolished by Louis XVI years before, the Revolutionaries actually brought it back.

    “Political prisoners in the Bastille” – what people were in the Bastille for their political opinions in 1789?

    “Religious persecution” – laws against Jews and Protestants had been repealed by Louis XVI (years before 1789) and for Revolutionaries, who launched a SAVAGE campaign of religious persecution of their own, to accuse other people of religious intolerance – is the height of hypocrisy.

    No one could honestly claim to be against murder and still support the Revolution after July 14th 1789 – the Governor of the Bastille was promised safe conduct if surrendered (surrendered – it was not “stormed”) the fortress and the arms within it (the real objective of the Revolutionaries – there being no political prisoners there). He accepted the promises, came out and was then brutally murdered. And, far from being ashamed of their lies and murder, the left CELEBRATE the murder in Paris every year – they have a man run, and then kill a pig (in front of a cheering crowd of leftists). People who claim not to know that the left is based upon (not just condones – but is based upon) lies and murder, are claiming to be blind and deaf.

    Even in some “mainstream” films the truth sometimes (briefly) comes out – in the film “Danton” (in which Danton is presented as a hero) Danton is being led to his death (at the hands of his own Comrades) and a fellow prisoner gets close to him (supposedly to shake his hand or give him a kiss of farewell) and then SPITS IN HIS FACE – shouting that “You Danton” “You set up the Committee of Public Safety” “You sent so many people to be murdered – now it is your turn”.

    The fellow prisoner acted correctly.

    And the principles of the American Revolution and the French Revolution (which John Adams understood – and Thomas Jefferson did not) are totally OPPOSED.

  • jsallison


    Mr Black
    June 24, 2018 at 3:41 am

    When the elites have become a predatory class of criminals who do not represent nor protect the interests of the citizens then a murderous revolution is actually the correct response, if all reasonable attempts at righting the ship of state have failed. Social upheaval is how nations refresh themselves and cast off the deadweight of their “betters” and murdering the old guard is the only way to make it permanent. Jefferson knew what he was talking about with regards to watering the tree of liberty, it is the endless cycle and attempts to avoid it only make the reckoning that much worse when it comes.”

    Which is why I am tooled up and standing by. I will not be the spark (I’m an optimist, fwiw), but if spark there is, I will be part of the cleansing fire, for as long as this granddad can do his voodoo for his grandkids. 22 year tanker, I’ve seen the elephant and don’t fear it’s return, though I’d prefer it didn’t.

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